Skrúður, Hótel Saga, Hagatorg, 107 Reykjavík
There’s a great scene in the movie ‘Office Space’ where Jennifer Aniston’s character, who works at a tacky restaurant, is passive aggressively reprimanded by her boss for only wearing the minimum required pieces of flair on her work vest, while he expects her to bedazzle her entire uniform to earn her minimum wage. The restaurant Skrúður, a word most closely translating to ‘flair,’ reminded me of this scene in reverse. Rather than adorn itself in tasteless embellishments for the sake of impressing its customers, it had poise, dignity and simple elegance.
Located off the lobby of Hótel Saga, it is a vast, airy space surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows and a full-roof skylight, and a clean, albeit slightly bland, caramel and white table scheme each topped with a single pink rose. It is most certainly not a minimum wage kind of joint.
Their menu consists primarily of a modest Nordic buffet, which they offer at lunch and dinnertime, plus a short à la carte and kids’ menu. Our stoic and professional waiter, Jónas, started by expertly serving our drinks with one hand, swirling my date’s Eintstök beer bottle so precisely to get every last drop. We both opted for the buffet and went to help ourselves.
It was a very humble spread, consisting of about a dozen salad items, five cold appetizers, four main courses and three main sides, plus a dessert table. I started with a plate of creamy herring topped with pickled onion, bulgur salad, cold roast beef with lettuce and cherry tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, smoked salmon and blue mussels with mandarins and onions. My date had pickled herring with red cabbage, bulgur salad, roast beef, mushrooms, potato salad and corn. The bulgur salad was particularly delicious, with a nice sprinkling of fresh mint leaves throughout. The cherry tomatoes were remarkably good, sweet and bursting with flavour. The mussels with mandarins and onions were lovely, but a little hard to get out of the shell. (I ended up with a bit of shell in my mouth, but that was probably my own fault.) My date was most fond of the pickled herring with cabbage as well as the bulgur salad.
Our first plates were cleared within moments of our last bites, but not too hastily either. We then went to get our main courses. I had a piece of each of the meats being served: roasted lamb leg, roast pork, fried monkfish and glazed turkey breast, with gravy on the lamb and turmeric sauce on the fish, plus roasted young potatoes and carrots and parsnips on the side. My date had the lamb and pork, with carrots and parsnips and an extra serving of cold pasta salad.
All the meats were perfectly tender but a little varying on the flavour. The pork was a bit bland and under-seasoned and a bit fatty. The monkfish was a bit too watery and soft but the sauce gave it a nice boost of salt and spice. The lamb was the definite standout, cooked absolutely to perfection and just lightly rubbed with herbs and pepper. The roasted young potatoes and carrots were just fine, but I found the parsnips a little too bitter. My date liked them, though, while he thoroughly disliked the pork.
After a short breather to finish our fizzy drinks, we cleared our palates with dessert, as one does. The dessert spread boasted both sweet and savoury treats, which was nice in theory but not very well executed. There were three kinds of cake – chocolate, tiramisu and a traditional Icelandic ‘sjónvarpskaka’ (TV cake)—chocolate-walnut mouse, a fresh fruit platter, cheeses and grapes, crackers and spreads, inexplicable tortilla chips, plus a sundae bar with four kinds of ice cream (very much for the kids).
I had one piece of each cake plus the mousse and some cheese and grapes. My date had the tiramisu and chocolate cake with a slice of pineapple. All three cakes tasted flat-out store bought. The chocolate cake was actually terrible, dry, pasty and flavourless. The mousse was nice but a little overpowering and I couldn’t manage more than a couple of bites. The sjónvarpskaka was the one surprisingly good treat, with a sweet crispy top crumble and a very moist coconutty cake. The cheeses (blue and Camembert) were served too cold, but cheese is cheese so no complaints.
Aside from the underwhelming pork and disappointing desserts, it was overall lovely and satisfying. Where most buffets fail by offering too many options and cause one to overeat and feel sick, this one provided just a small smattering of comforting and fresh dishes that didn’t fill me up at the first bite. It would be perfectly fine if you just wanted a small snack or wanted to go back for seconds, thirds or fourths. But it is missing a little bang for one’s buck, given that it isn’t a cheap thrill. And they could go that extra mile and wear a few extra pieces of flair.
What We Think: A buffet with a lot of class and self-control
Flavour: Sunday brunch at your frændi’s place
Ambiance: Laid back, luminous, simple elegance
Service: Graceful and stoic
Price for 2 (with drinks): 6,500 ISK at lunch, 13,000 ISK at dinner, children under 12 eat for free and kids 12–16 get 50% off
Our Rating: 3/5